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Published February 25, 2012 1:01 am

Spending cap unneeded and unwise
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Utah Senate Thursday advanced a proposed constitutional amendment that said, in effect, that the Utah Legislature cannot be trusted. If this measure had made it through the Legislature and onto the ballot, that would have been so.

Senate Joint Resolution 22 would be the best evidence to date that our lawmakers will bow to political pressure and make very bad decisions. A couple of the senators said as much, admitting that they were voting for something they knew was a foolish idea for fear of being painted as big-spenders if they didn't.

Friday, those senators were saved from themselves when the sponsor of SJR22, Sen. Stuart Reid, without explanation, pulled the measure from consideration. Now those who voted for the amendment can brag they took a bold stand against spending, without having to subject their constituents to the horrific impact such a limit would really have.

SJR22 would, if approved by both houses and then by a public referendum, add to the Utah Constitution an artificial cap on annual state spending. Artificial, unnecessary, undemocratic and almost certainly very damaging.

The state could spend no more of its own money than was spent in the smallest of the previous five budget years, plus a yet-to-be-determined (insert much political mischief here) formula for inflation and population growth.

The reason for such a cap seems nothing more than jealousy that Colorado has one. That state's Taxpayers Bill of Rights, also an artificial limit, has caused all kinds of problems over the years and led to a giant case of voters' remorse.

Utah does not need this. It has a long, unbroken and wholly unthreatened history of being the most parsimonious state in the nation. Its taxes are low and its spending even on essential services such as education, health and public safety is never more — and is usually less — than necessary.

Utah has already gone way too far toward putting its budget process on autopilot. A prime example is last year's move to commit 20 percent of the annual growth in sales tax revenue to transportation projects.

All SJR22 would have done would be to tie the hands of future lawmakers and governors, making it impossible to do what they are elected to do, which is to make judgments and weigh priorities based on the needs and the assets at hand.

Programs that serve the vast majority of Utah citizens — education, health and public safety — are those most likely to be slashed when spending nears this contrived ceiling.

SJR22 was a bad idea. It is the lawmakers who didn't, or pretended not to, see that who are unworthy of our trust.






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